The matter or “material cause” of human bodymind consists of the cells who interact to carry on the body-process, which in turn organizes itself in several levels intermediate between the cellular and organism levels.
Yet each cell has its own life or identity, constituted by still smaller-scale molecular interactions; and we ourselves form the substrate of larger-scale entities, such as communities and ecosystems. At that level, the dialogue of which this book is a minute part may constitute the thoughts of a “global brain,” expressed in a vast language we humans can only imagine by analogy with human languages. But its context is beyond our comprehension. Is there a being for whom “the Great Conversation” is an internal dialogue?
At the scale of the human bodymind, all the buzzing business inside your brain serves the purpose of your understanding, and none of your neurons has any idea of that, even though they constitute it with their interaction. But what if all the human dialogue, including the crosstalk of the Internet and all the global media, is just the inner working of a global brain, working as a guidance system within the global body? What if the human collective, or Gaia perhaps, is doing the real meaning, even though we constitute it by interacting?
This may be an appealing idea, since we long to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to serve a higher purpose – this is part of our heritage as social animals. But we can at best imagine such ‘higher purpose’ – as we are now doing – within the limitations of a human organism. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, ‘Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower’ (Swidler 1999, 9). Drawing upon the repertoire of human-scale experience, we might imagine Humanity or Gaia or God like a wise and nurturing parent – or we might imagine that this higher-level being cares about us no more than an anthill cares about the feelings of its ants.
Let imagination do its wild work, and let our humble dialogue probe and push the envelope of knowledge.